Monday, 11 January 2016
The West Coast of North America is frequently impacted by atmospheric rivers (ARs), regions of intense horizontal water vapor transport that often produce heavy rain, flooding, and landslides when they interact with near-coastal mountains. Recently, studies have shown that ARs penetrate farther inland on many occasions, with indications that the vertical distribution of vapor transport within the ARs may play a key role in this penetration (Alexander et al. 2015; Rutz et al. 2015). We hypothesize that the amount of near-coastal precipitation and the likelihood of AR penetration farther inland may be inversely linked by vertical distributions of vapor fluxes before, during, and after landfall. To explore whether differing vertical distributions of transport explain differing precipitation and penetration outcomes, we compare two landfalling ARs that had very similar spatial extents and rates of vertically integrated (total) vapor transport, but which nonetheless produced very different amounts of precipitation over northern California. The vertical distribution of water vapor flux, specific humidity, and wind speed during these two ARs are examined along several transects using cross-sectional analyses of the Climate Forecast System Reanalysis with a horizontal resolution of ~0.5° (~63 km) and a sigma-pressure hybrid coordinate at 64 vertical levels. In addition, we pursue similar analyses of forecasts from the NCEP Global Ensemble Forecast System GEFS to assess whether numerical weather prediction models accurately represent these distributions. Finally, we calculate backward trajectories from within each AR to examine whether or not the origins of their respective air parcels play a role in the resulting vertical distribution of water vapor flux. The results have major implications for two problems in weather prediction: (1) the near-coastal precipitation associated with landfalling ARs and (2) the likelihood of AR penetration farther inland.
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